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The spirit of preaching

By Peter Sellick - posted Wednesday, 16 March 2016


Preaching has been called peculiar speech. It is peculiar because it does not fit into our usual understanding of the intention of speech acts. For example..

  • It is not a search for ancient morality that we may impose on the present.
  • It is not an historical exercise determined to discover what people believed in the past, although this is often revealing.
  • It is not a mini bible study that provides a commentary on Scripture.
  • It is not an argument for the existence of God. Such exercises are intellectual and abstract and are not the heart of preaching.
  • In a similar vein to the above, preaching does not present evidence for the existence of a supernatural realm.
  • Neither is preaching an exercise in rallying the Christian troops in order to support the Church.
  • Preaching is, by its nature, not tribal. It does not play one part of the Christian family against others.
  • Finally, in the realm of the mega-church, preaching is not a means of seduction.

Any of you who listen to sermons on a regular basis will recognise some of the above.

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Preaching has a sturdy theological foundation that is to be found in the Old Testament and is carried into the New. We find its basis in the very first verses of Genesis, the first book of the bible. When God creates the world in six days and rests on the seventh, He does so by fiat. He says "Let their be….." and the world comes to be. God creates by proclamation; God creates by preaching.

This is obscured by the argument about the existence or non-existence of God in which the main point is thought to be of Being. Indeed the whole argument about atheism is a distraction that missed the point of God entirely in that God is not as objects or subjects in the world are but His being is in His act. How does God act? He acts by speaking. How does God create, he creates by his Word.

It is significant that the argument with atheism rarely refers to preaching because it is in preaching that we know that God exists.

When the Old Testament prophet begins or ends his prophesy with the words "Thus says the Lord" he knows that the words he speaks are not his words but the Words of God that creates a new world order.

Preaching can only become authentic and serious if this is kept in mind. This is a terrible burden on the preacher because he or she is called to speak as God speaks and realises that his words do not return to him empty but creates a new reality in those who hear it.

Listening to sermons should be the most dangerous thing we do each week because they have the potential to speak to us as God. The preacher should be able to pronounce as do the readers of Scripture "This is the Word of the Lord."

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This is where doubt comes in. Are the preacher's words really the Word of God? Is that not preposterous grandstanding? After all, how many destructive men and women have we had who pronounce that they are conduits for the will of God?

Surely in an age of equalitarianism, for the preacher to make such claims is anathema!

But I stick to my point. God is not utterly transcendent although he is transcendent. Similarly, God is not utterly human although one can speak about the Humanity of God.

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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences. He has a website called Coondle Art Presentations.

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